The acts of violence towards Catalonian referendum voters by Spanish voters earlier this month shocked the work. Clips of riot squads beating voters went viral on social media. Why did this happen? Where did Catalonia come from? And why do so many of its citizens consider themselves as Catalonian and not Spanish? Let’s delve into the complicated past of the region…
The acquisition of lands and titles had always been an aim of Ferdinand II. As the king of Aragon, he already held sway over the Kingdoms of Majorca, Valencia and the Principality of Catalonia. He was the descendent of Frankish vassals who had invaded the once Muslim held eastern region in 762. Before that, Visigoths had settled in the region, conquering Roman ‘Hispania’. As a result, Catalonia was already a cultural and ethnic mix.
In 1469 Ferdinand II married Isabelle, half-sister of Henry IV, King of Castile, an area which covered much of modern-day Spain. He and his bride were later crowned as joint rulers of Castile when Henry died in 1474. Ferdinand held his Aragonese title, thus Catalonia was brought into the folds of what would become Spain.
Between them, the Castilian monarch power couple had taken Muslim held Granada and invaded the Kingdom of Navarre, finally bringing together all of the Iberian territories under one crown and giving birth to a united Spain. When their son Charles I, came to the throne in 1516, the idea of a Spanish nation was present.
However, Catalonia continued to adhere to its own separate laws and institutions. Castile replaced Aragon as the political power in Spain as decentralisation took a back seat. Despite this, the crown of Aragon continued as their sovereign title.
In 1700 the Spanish War of Succession forced Catalonia to renounce such practices. A childless Charles II of Spain had died, leaving his throne to France’s Phillip V. The Austrian Charles’ IV, Holy Roman Emperor, was understandably keen to take Spain’s throne for his own. He and Charles II (yeap two Charles’) were first cousins. The ensuing war saw Catalonia side with the ‘pretender’ Charles IV. They were on the losing side.
Phillip was not a forgiving man. Upon his victory and ascension to the throne, he issued the Nueva Planta decrees. Terminating all of Catalonia’s separate institutions, laws, rights and kingship, whilst suppressing their language and culture. Madrid and the centralised Spanish Kingdom reached its apex.
By the 1920’s Spain was unrecognisable. Alfonso XIII had abdicated, with the fall of the Spanish president and dictator Primo de Rivera, causing the establishment of the Second Spanish Republic. Under this new government, Catalonia received its first Statute of Autonomy. In 1931, the Generalitat of Catalonia, an autonomous, government body, was established.
It is clear that the ethnic origins of Catalonia are the source of their desires for independence. An area influenced by Romans, barbarians, Muslims and ruled by its Frankish royal line, understandably considers itself to be different to the Castilian Spanish. It was the 19th century that saw a definitive resurgence of separatist desires and once autonomy was granted in 1931 Catalonia was always going to want more.
After the civil war in 1939, General Franco’s fascist regime came to power. Franco’s iron clad reign came with a mass suppression of Catalonia and its desire’s for autonomy. He banned any kind of public activities associated with Catalan nationalism, democracy or communism. Franco died in 1975. The new democratic Spain granted Catalonia cultural and political autonomy. Franco’s period of suppression was long and still sits raw in the memory of modern Spain. Therefore it’s no surprise that modern Catalan’s still seek to build on their post-fascist gains in establishing full independence.